On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door. It was sort of like stapling a concert announcement on a telephone pole. It is what one did to get people to come to your event. It was the town bulletin board. He was planning an evening of debate.
About a year later there was an official debate between Luther and a delegate of the Pope. No agreement was reached. Eventually the Pope declared Luther a heretic and Luther went into hiding.
Luther took the spotlight in getting the Reformation off to a running start, but he withdrew in subsequent years, raised a family of five children and focused on translating the Bible into German. Much of the Reformation energy became politicized, with state leaders fighting with church leaders, and the peasants revolting. It was a fiery time and Luther’s sometimes fiery personality got him into the thick of things sometimes, making declarations and taking sides in an escalating conflict.
Luther was not a peacemaker. The Reformation was a bloody time in the history of the church. Henry the VIII and his children tore up England with their religious wars. Calvin, too, got caught up in setting limits on the possibility of reform and supporting the death of those too radical for him.
How did it come to this? What does it mean to be a peacemaker and still stand up for change, or for justice?
Peacemaking is confusing, even in the teachings of Jesus. Which teachings are we going to read? “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Or, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Jesus knew that his teachings would cause division. That is what Matthew 10 is talking about. People will persecute you – your sisters and brothers in synagogue and family, the governmental officials. What I am teaching is a radical threat to the way of power. And power will not give up easily. Certainly this was Martin Luther’s experience.
Yet Jesus, in his life, refused to bear the sword. He told Peter to put his down and healed the man injured when Peter lashed out. Jesus did not call on the host of heaven to fight for his life. Jesus took the path of non-resistance, with the possible exception of his throwing the money-changers out of the Temple with a whip he fashioned (John 2:15).
What does it mean to be a peacemaker when it is time to speak truth to power? Luther’s famous words at the Diet of Worms are perhaps one of the best examples ever: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
These words put his life in danger, and only an elaborate plot among friends and a political protector got him safely into hiding. Luther stood on the strength of his convictions. He would have preferred to have a good Bible study with his opponents. But they could not agree on the same basis of authority. Luther held to Scripture. The opponents held to the teachings of the church. Could the two have agreed? I doubt it. Could the two have avoided the violent conflict? Perhaps.
The legacy handed down to us from this wrenching, violent time is one of self-righteousness. That sounds damning, I know. But what started with Luther’s honest questions, ended with pronouncements of right and wrong. Christians in this room still honor many of the teachings Martin Luther defended that day. And there are many of his teachings which we have found to be irrelevant or downright, misguided – like his condemnation of Jews, or the peasants in revolt, or the entire book of James (with which he declared he would like to start his fire). Even Luther did not want to listen to all of the Bible, but picked and chose the teachings which spoke to him.
Since the Reformation, Protestants have a reputation for splitting and dividing. The pacifist third stream of the Reformation was no exception. They found they could more safely live and worship apart, than find a way to live together with their differing opinions. They split from their brothers and sisters over what was too worldly – hooks or buttons, buttons or zippers, black bonnets or white, horses or automobiles, chrome or no chrome. Before we judge, I wonder how many Presbyterian churches have divided over the color of the carpet or the style of the new organ. Our own congregation came to very harsh words over the choice of purple furniture for the Parlor!
Quantum mechanics has a lesson for our polarized society: Two contradictory things can still be true. This is how nature works. The father of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, put it this way: “The opposite of a shallow truth is false; but the opposite of a deep truth is also true.” Physicists first faced that opposites can both be true in the early 20th century when light turned out to be neither a wave nor a particle but both.
Relativity, the other pillar of physics, comes to a similar, and just as paradoxical, conclusion: The same situation can look very different from a different frame of reference, so different that it may be hard to believe that it can also be true. Both perspectives are true but neither is the full story. 
I learned this in my divorce. Neither my story nor my ex’s was the full story. Once I could accept that, I could begin to accept that he has his own journey and decisions to make based on what his life has given him. He in his humanness is trying to do his best, just as I in my humanness am trying to do my best. Both are true. This is the beginning of peacemaking. Allowing that the other might be just as right as I am. Certainly they are just as human as I, just as loved by the Creator as I.
Is it possible to accept, love, live with each other, even though we have drastically different opinions? We are in the middle of the World Series. I know people who are passionate, life-long Dodger fans. And I know those who are totally enamored of the Red Sox. Is it possible to be fans to the death for opposing teams and still love each other? Is it possible to make peace after the game is over? How?
Turn to your neighbor and talk about what you would do to make up with your opposing fan friend after the game. What would you do? Could you make it worse? How would you do that?
There is a deep divide right now in Christianity. In Christianity we have Evangelical/ Fundamentalist/ Conservative/ Legalist on one side and Progressive/ Liberal/ Activist/ Welcoming on the other. Churches are dividing over these labels. Denominations are dividing. Our own presbytery has lost 17 churches in this division, and I don’t know how many our denomination has lost. We just can’t get along, so we divorce.
One of my best, life-long friends votes the opposite of me politically, is willing to separate from the denomination, and roots for different sports teams! But we are still life-long friends, and we both know it, we are both committed to being friends. How can this be? Well, how did you make peace with your fan opponents?
I am guessing that there were a couple of strategies. One is to make the relationship more important than the opinion. Another is to respect the other as fully human and delight in the diversity of the human heart.
Jeremiah lived through a day when Judah was literally torn apart. He saw the powerful so abuse the poor that the nation’s strength was completely crumbled. Their arguments about who was right or wrong before the Law of God destroyed them. Jeremiah argued, following the rules to the letter, simply doesn’t matter. It is a matter of the heart.
In Jeremiah 31, we have the high point of Jeremiah’s passionate prophecy. God loves the children of Abraham. God has taken them by the hand and married them. God has become one with them and will not let them go. Just as God cannot divide Godself, so God cannot divide from God’s people. So there will be a new covenant. Not based on laws and doing right or wrong, not on outward things we can judge. No. This new covenant will be inscribed on the heart of every individual. It will be like an etching, printed from its exact image on God’s heart. In the new covenant, the hearts will be inseparably linked. This is the beginning of peacemaking.
The covenant on the heart has a leveling effect. All community members stand on equal ground, in equal righteousness. Because righteousness is not based on right action or right thinking, but on right relationship. No one can claim the authority to teach the other because each heart has God’s torah inscribed on it. It all comes down to God’s marriage words from Sinai: “I will be their God and they will be my people.” Peacemaking, in the end is God’s act. God has taken us into godself, given us God’s own name – “children of God.” When we see our Beloved in the eyes of our enemy, then we will know that we can be enemy no longer. Do we have the courage to see the Beloved in the other?
This is a time for peacemakers! Time for us to put aside our fan loyalties, or our one-sided truth and embrace each other, all of us marked by the heart of the Beloved. It is beginning. The up-and-comings don’t care about our dividing lines. Partnering, collaboration, work together on what we have in common – these are theme words we hear. The Reformation affirmed the heart covenant, the power of faith, but it also left us a legacy of conflict. In a fragile world, now is the time to make peace. God loves us all. That simple affirmation may be the root of peace. God loves us all. May Love transform this new Reformation.
by Rev. Carley Friesen